What’s Screening: August 26–September 1

The From Britain with Love festival continues at the Rafael.

This is a silent film-heavy week.

Leap Year, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. I have a good reason to have never seen Roscue “Fatty” Arbuckle’s last starring feature; this will be only its second public screening in the Bay Area. A major box office draw at the beginning of the 1920s, Arbuckle’s popularity came to a sudden halt with accusations of rape and murder in 1921. He was eventually acquitted (and no historians today believe he was guilty), but his career was ruined. Leap Year was the comedy he had just completed when catastrophe struck, and thus was never released. I have no idea if it’s any good, but knowing Arbuckle’s work, it probably is. And even if it isn’t, it will be preceded by shorts starring W. C. Fields and Stan Laurel. Everything will be accompanied by Judy Rosenberg at the piano. You can read more about it in Thomas Gladysz’s article.

A Our Hospitality, Stanford, Friday, 7:30. Three years before he made The General, Buster Keaton mined the antebellum South for comic gold in this almost gentle comedy about a Hatfield/McCoy–type feud. Still adjusting to the long form of the feature film (this was only his second), Keaton fills Our Hospitality with funny gems that have little to do with the story–like the journey from New York to the backwoods on a very early train (the movie is set around 1840). When Buster finally arrives at his destination, he finds himself a guest in the home of men sworn to kill him. Luckily, the code of southern hospitality forbids killing a guest…as long as he’s in your house. Read my Blu-ray review. With the Keaton short “The Balloonatic.” Dennis James will accompany both movies on the Stanford’s Wurlitzer pipe organ.

A The Lady Vanishes, Stanford, Saturday through next Friday. The best (and second to last) film Alfred Hitchcock made in England before jumping the pond, The Lady Vanishes stands among his best. This is Hitchcock light–starting out as a gentle comedy and slowly building suspense, but never taking itself too seriously. Only North by Northwest is more enjoyable. On a double-bill with The 39 Steps, which I haven’t seen in too long a time.

A Metropolis, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 8:00. The first important science fiction feature film still strikes a considerable visual punch,and with the latest restoration, tells a compelling story, as well. The images–workers in a hellish underground factory, the wealthy at play, a robot brought to life in the form of a beautiful woman–are a permanent part of our collective memory. Even people who haven’t seen Metropolis know them through the countless films it has influenced. Recently-discovered footage, which restores it to something very much like the original cut, elevates the story of a clash between workers and aristocrats from trite melodrama to grand opera. Read my longer report and my Blu-ray review. Digitally projected, and using the recorded score rather than live accompaniment..

A Dr. Strangelove, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00. We like to look back at earlier  decades as simpler, less fearful times, but Stanley Kubrick’s “nightmare comedy” reminds you just how scary things once were. Thank heaven we no longer have idiots like those running the country! It’s also very funny.

A- Hot Fuzz, Castro, Friday. Director/co-writer Edgar Wright fills every frame of Hot Fuzz with his love for mindless action movies. More precisely, he fills the splices between the frames, cutting even the scenes of quiet village life in the frantic style of Hollywood violence–accompanied by overloud sound effects, of course. (And yes, he’s smart enough not to overdo it.) This technique, along with a funny story, clever dialog, and charming performances, help make this genre parody the funniest film in years, with the longest sustained laugh I’ve experienced since I first discovered Buster Keaton. On a MiDNitES for MANiACS triple bill with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Shaun of the Dead.

Cowboys, Aliens, and Original Blockbusters

I wanted to see Cowboys and Aliens as soon as I saw the advertising. Partly, it struck me as a cool idea. I also wanted to support any big-budget Hollywood summer movie that wasn’t a sequel, prequel, remake, or adaptation from a TV show, best-selling novel, or comic book.

Besides, a new western is a rare treat these days, even one with such an outlandish gimmick. I was also intrigued by the artless, blunt “This is what we’re giving you” title. A big movie today needs a title that tells you what you’ll be seeing in no uncertain terms. Most do this simply by being part of a franchise. If the title starts with Spiderman or Harry Potter, you know what you’re getting. You also know what you’re getting with Snakes on a Plane or Cowboys and Aliens (or for that matter, with the only art-house film I know of with such a blunt title: Young People Fucking).

I don’t buy movie tickets because of a genre or title. My final decision came only after seeing the mostly-positive reviews. Unfortunately, other priorities kept me out of the theater while the movie became a flop—or at least a “disappointment.” I don’t know why C&A hasn’t drawn a bigger audience, but I know what conclusion the studio heads will make: It’s too dangerous to invest a big budget in a movie that isn’t a sequel, prequel, remake, or adaptation from a TV show, best-selling novel, or comic book.

I finally saw the movie yesterday afternoon, in a near-empty theater. This movie deserves better.

Cowboys and Aliens comes very close to being an excellent neo-classic western. I’m not just talking about the easy stuff, like dirt. The plot, especially in the first act, offers vague suggestions of Rio Bravo and other classics without going over the line into rip-off. From the first to the last shot, it shows considerable love and understanding of the entire genre.

The actors all have the right look, playing characters that walk that fine line between archetypes and fully-developed human beings that make Ford’s best work so impressive. Daniel Craig stars as the lone, quiet gunslinger who wanders into town. Harrison Ford is the rich cattle baron who runs the town that Craig’s character wanders into. You’ve got the hotshot kid (Paul Dano), the saloon keeper (Sam Rockwell), and the sheriff (Keith Carradine). All that’s lacking is the drunken doctor and the whore with the heart of gold.

But then the aliens attack, and it gets kind of silly. It’s still fun, both because the alien action scenes are well done, and because by then we’re invested in the characters. But I couldn’t help suspecting that the filmmakers wanted to make a western, but couldn’t get financing without adding aliens.

The aliens, of course, are evil, ugly, and utterly lacking in subtlety or characterization. While the movie takes from the best of westerns, its science fiction elements seem taken directly from the Big Book of Movie Clichés.

Yes, much of it is predictable (anyone who doesn’t realize that the little kid would use that knife in an important way has never seen a Hollywood movie). But that’s part of the fun of genre. Cowboys and Aliens handles one genre expertly, and the other passably. I give it a B.

What’s Screening: August 19 – 25

From Britain with Love continues at the Rafael. The Sausalito Film Festival opens today for a three-day run. And since Buddhists and us Jews get our own festivals, it’s only right that the Roxie devote one day (Sunday) to the Atheist Film Festival.

girlshyA- Special Harold Lloyd evening with presentation & Girl Shy, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:30. In Girl Shy, Harold Lloyd plays a small-town hick so terrified of young women that he can’t talk in their presence. Nevertheless, he manages to write a book on how to be a great lover. Not quite up there with The Freshman and Kid Brother, but still very funny. It’s also his first film with his best leading lady, Jobyna Ralston. Also on the bill is Lloyd’s last—and in my opinion best—short, “Never Weaken.” John Bengtson, author of the new book Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloyd,  will present a program exploring the locations of both films. (He has also written similar books on Keaton and Chaplin’s locations.)

Rifftrax Presents Night of the Shorts II: Electric Riffaloo, Castro, Saturday, 8:30. Last week, you had the opportunity to see a RiffTrax performance broadcast into hundreds of theaters. This week, you can watch this troupe of Mystery Science Theater veterans perform live. You can also read about my one live RiffTrax experience. An SF Sketchfest presentation.

A Terrence Malick Double Feature: Days of Heaven & Badlands, Castro, Thursday. The story seems a better fit for a 64-minute B noir from the 1940s, but Days of Heaven isn’t about story, and only moderately about character. It’s about time, place, and atmosphere. The time is around 1916, and for most of the film, the place is a large wheat farm on the Texas panhandle–empty fields stretching out to the horizon, broken up by gentle hills and a stream that give it a unique beauty. this is a very good film turned great by cinematographer Nestor Almendros. Through the yellow of the wheat fields, the haze of the sun, and the smoke of early 20th-century technology, Almendros creates a sense of something that is not quite nostalgia, and not quite a dream, but a reality seen through the haze of distant memory. See my longer commentary. I wouldn’t put Badlands in the same category, but it also provides some haunting atmosphere as it follows two young lovers (Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek) on a frighteningly casual killing spree.

B Tommy, SFMOMA, Thursday, 7:00. Ken Russell’s over-the-top film version of Pete Townsend’s and The Who’s rock opera hits you over the head with all the subtlety of Beach Blanket Babylon, turning a parable of spiritual quest into a carnival satire of materialism and cults. Oliver Reed proves he can’t sing as he plays a male version of the stereotypical evil stepmother. He’s not the only embarrassment in the all-star cast. But his co-stars, Roger Daltrey and Ann-Margaret, sing, dance, and give great performances, as do Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, and Elton John in smaller roles. Townsend’s music is still brilliant, and if this isn’t the best version of Tommy, it’s certainly the most fun.

A Double Indemnity, Castro, Wednesday. Rich but unhappy (and evil) housewife Barbara Stanwyck leads insurance salesman Fred MacMurray by the nose from adultery to murder in Billy Wilder’s near-perfect thriller. Not that she has any trouble leading him (this is not the wholesome MacMurray we remember from My Three Sons).  Edward G. Robinson is in fine form as the co-worker and close friend that MacMurray must deceive. A good, gritty thriller about sex (or the code-era equivalent) and betrayal, Double Indemnity can reasonably be called the first true film noir. On a double bill with The Postman Always Rings Twice, which I haven’t seen in a very long time but remember fondly.

A- Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Castro, Friday. Men are  jerks and women are crazy. At least that’s the view of Pedro Almodovar’s comedy of infidelity. womannervousbreakdownThe picture starts like a reasonably serious comedy, sprinkling a few laughs in with the character development. Yet it suggests that something broader is just around the corner. The décor is just a little over the top, and some of the jokes (consider the detergent commercial) are in the stratosphere. Those outrageous bits are a harbinger of things to come. By the half-way point, the movie is as wacky as classic American screwball comedy–and considerably bawdier. Carmen Maura stars as the woman wronged (well, the main woman wronged), with an impossibly young Antonio Banderas playing the son of the man who wronged her. On a double bill with The Flower of My Secret  as part of the series Viva Pedro.

B Wait Until Dark, Stanford, Saturday through Thursday.  Audrey Hepburn stars as a blind housewife stalked by drug dealers who are themselves stalked by a vicious killer (a rare, very scary Alan Arkin). This effective thriller has one very original, very effective shock moment (I can’t give it away) that has since been ruined by overuse. But this, I believe, was the first time it was done. On an Audrey Hepburn double-bill with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a movie I saw long ago and didn’t care for at that time.

B- 2001: A Space Odyssey, Castro, Sunday. I used to worship Stanley Kubrick’s visualization of Arthur C. Clarke’s imagination, but it hasn’t aged all that well. We’ve all 2001seen the actual year, and know that Clarke and Kubrick got almost everything wrong. Yet there’s no denying the pull of 2001’s unorthodox storytelling and visual splendor–if you can see it properly presented. 2001 was shot for 70mm projection on a giant, curved, Cinerama screen–an experience that’s simply not available in the Bay Area today. The Castro can and has presented it in 70mm (although on a flat screen). Unfortunately, this presentation is merely 35mm. On a double bill with the forgettable sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact.

A Hitchcock Double Bill: Shadow of a Doubt & Dial M for Murder, Stanford, Friday. In Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock’s first great American film and the movie that earns this double bill an A, a serial killer (Joseph Cotton) returns to his small-town roots. When his favorite niece (Teresa Wright) begins to suspect that all is not right with her beloved Uncle Charlie, her own life is in danger. The locations were shot in Santa Rosa. Dial M–the only 3D film made by an important auteur until Avatar–isn’t great Hitchcock, but it’s passable. Unfortunately, the Castro will not present the movie in 3D.

Cracks

I wrote this review after seeing  Cracks at the 2010 San Francisco International Film Festival. I was under the impression it would receive a theatrical release and therefore held back the full-length review. As it turns out, it did get a theatrical release, but it didn’t spread to the Bay Area. Since it’s available on Netflix, I feel justified in releasing this review now.

C Boarding School Drama

Set in an English boarding school in 1934, Cracks has some good scenes and some bad ones. The characters may at one moment seem realistic and fascinating, and at the next do something utterly unbelievable with no motivation beyond the demands of the plot. This is the sort of movie where one character spends most of the film hating another, then suddenly likes her because the plot requires it, then hates her again.

Filmmakers have been setting movies in British boarding schools since the beginning of the art form. We’ve had Goodbye, Mr. Chips, If…, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (very close to Cracks, storywise), and the Harry Potter movies. Cracks follows the clichés. You’ve got the snooty student who dominates the others, the non-conformist teacher with admiring students, and the new girl (this being a girls’ school) who tries to fit in.

Eva Green of The Dreamers and Casino Royale gets top billing as the unconventional and much-admired teacher. Through most of the film, she does an excellent job, and her stunning beauty helps us believe that the girls admire her and want to emulate her. And like Jean Brodie of the much-better film, she proves to be less than she appears. Cracks’ best moments come as screenwriters Ben Court, Caroline Ip, and Jordan Scott (who also directed) slowly reveal the degree in which she’s been living a lie. Unfortunately, as the film approaches its end, Green’s performance goes way over the top, forcing us to lose not only our sympathy for the character, but also our ability to suspend disbelief.

I won’t tell you which character dies, but I wouldn’t be giving much away if I did. With the single exception of the character of Dead Meat in Hotshots, I’ve never seen a movie so obviously foreshadow a character’s death. And Hotshots was parodying these foreshadowing conventions.

Another thing: With its crazed, seducing, raping, murdering lesbian, it’s a bit homophobic.

Cracks is not a horrible mess. It’s well acted, with interesting characters who behave (most of the time) like real people. The basic story, of a Spanish princess trying to fit in at an English boarding school, makes a compelling way to explore that particular subculture. It’s technically well-made, and is filled with beautiful women. But the flaws, which are almost all at the basic story level, weigh it down.

The UC Theatre: A Memory

I’ve seen a lot of movie theaters close. It always hurts. But none hurt as much as Berkeley’s UC Theatre. There were years when I went there three or four times a week. Even more than the Castro, the UC was my shrine to the art and joy of cinema.

It closed its doors for the last time more than ten years ago, in March of 2001.

I discovered the UC soon after it became a repertory house in 1976. For most of the time I knew it, it showed a different double bill every day.

Built in 1917, the UC was an amazing theater. Not as ornate as the palaces to follow, it nevertheless sat about 1,500 people. It had a very large proscenium, and a rising UC Theatercurtain in front of the wide, fixed-height screen. When a film was projected in scope, the image stretched from one side of the proscenium to the other, producing a truly immersive effect for those who chose to sit in front. Other aspect ratios were projected at the same height and lesser width, and were also quite large.

Gary Meyer disagrees with me on this, but I distinctly remember the screen having an ever-so-slight curve. It was barely noticeable for non-scope movies, but when the full width of the screen was in use, it was just enough to add a little depth to the experience. Since Meyer owned and ran the UC, I have to assume that his memory of it having a flat screen is correct. On the other hand, I distinctly remember the UC replacing its screen with much fanfare in the 90s, and my being disappointed to discover that the new screen was flat.

Thanks to the large screen and that possibly imaginary curve, the UC was a great place to see films intended for 70mm presentation—even though it lacked 70mm projectors. The stereo sound helped, of course.

The UC could play 4-track magnetic stereo—a format that was already dying when it switched to repertory. But magnetic prints were still available back then—and some of them were even new. Among the magnetic stereo films I saw there were Cleopatra, The Egyptian, Camelot, 2001, Nashville, How the West Was Won, Prince Valiant, The Concert for Bangladesh, The Grateful Dead Movie, and Woodstock. I saw that one there many times.

In the early 1980s, it added Dolby Stereo, as well. With that addition, it became the best place in the east bay to see new movies as well as old ones (at least if the new movie wasn’t playing in 70mm on this side of the bay). The screen was bigger, the sound was at least as good, the projection was better, the price was cheaper, and you got a second feature. The only downside was that you had to catch it that day.

That changed in the mid-90’s, when digital sound came in. The UC never did that upgrade.

I wasn’t there the night Werner Herzog ate his shoe. But I saw Matinee with screenwriter Charles S. Haas there to answer questions. I attended two bad-movie marathons inspired by books by the Medved Brothers. I saw a horribly-altered version of The General with a bad soundtrack, and twice saw a good print with Bob Vaughn at the organ. I saw Legong: Dance of the Virgins, followed by a live performance of Balinese dancing. It’s the only place where I got to sit through the entire original (and unaltered) Star Wars trilogy as a triple feature—and I saw it there twice. I also saw a quadruple feature of Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies. And let’s not forget the sing-a-long Singin’ in the Rain, where few people actually sang along, but the entire audience recited most of Lena Lamont’s dialog (“I can’t stand it!”).

How important was it to my film-going life? Let’s assume that the movies I own on Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray make up a reasonable cross-section of the films most important to me. Going through 173 titles in my collection (I didn’t include shorts, features in boxed sets that I wouldn’t have considered buying separately, or movies made after 1998), I found that I saw 115 of them—almost two thirds—at the UC. I saw 24 of those films theatrically only at the UC.

Here’s something more impressive than a statistic: I met my first wife there (at a screening of Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet). That means that my son literally owes his existence to the UC Theatre.

The photo above, taken by Bob Ekman, is from Mad Max Fan Cars.

Days of Heaven At the Cerrito

I first saw Terrence Malick’s historical, visually poetic epic, Days of Heaven, in 1978. It was brand new back then, and I saw it in 70mm, at San Francisco’s now-defunct Regency II. I saw it a second time last night at the Cerrito.

I’m pleased to report that it is still a great film.

Which is odd, because the story seems a better fit for a 64-minute B noir from the 1940s. Two itinerant, poverty-stricken lovers (Richard Gere and Brooke Adams) pretend to be brother and sister because it makes things simpler. When a lonely, dying, but very wealthy man (Sam Shepard) falls for the woman, her lover convinces her to encourage his feelings. This results in marriage and a comfortable life for all…at least until the rich man notices that his wife and brother-in-law seem a little too affectionate for siblings.

But Days of Heaven isn’t about story, and only moderately about character. It’s about time, place, and atmosphere.

The time is around 1916, and for most of the film, the place is a large wheat farm on the Texas panhandle. It’s usually a lonely place of empty fields stretching out to the horizon. Not totally flat, though. Gentle hills and a stream give it a unique beauty. And when harvest time approaches, it becomes alive with humanity, as migrant farm workers descent on it, seemingly from all over the world, to earn their $3 a day. They work hard, but they also build camp fires, sing, dance, and fight. In other words, they become a community.

Then the harvest ends, everyone leaves, and the place becomes lonely, again. Not a bad setting for a love triangle.

Actually, there are four people in this dysfunctional family. Gere’s character has a young sister, played by Linda Manz. Malick tells the story through her eyes–or at least through her voice. She narrates the film. There’s very little dialog, so Manz’ voice really dominates the picture.

Telling a story through narration can be a tricky business, but Malick never overdoes it. Many important plot points are told visually, or through the sparse dialog. Others are never told at all. Malick respects the audience’s ability to fill in the blanks.

Like another of my 1970s favorites, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, this is a very good film turned great by the photography. In this case, the credit goes to cinematographer Nestor Almendros. I’m not saying that because the images are beautiful, although almost every shot could be framed and mounted on a wall, but because they so perfectly evoke a time, a place, and a mood. Through the yellow of the wheat fields, the haze of the sun, and the smoke of early 20th-century technology, Almendros creates a sense of something that is not quite nostalgia, and not quite a dream, but a reality seen through the haze of distant memory.

I said above that Days of Heaven is only moderately about character. Gere plays the most interesting character. A likeable man with a quick temper, he’s sufficiently desperate and unethical enough to send his lover into another man’s bed for financial gain. His reaction to the reality of his plan isn’t the one most film-goers would expect. He doesn’t turn violently jealous, but recklessly affectionate. With everyone living in the same house, that can be just as dangerous.

Gere was the only famous name in the movie, and he gets star treatment. He plays a poor man who starts the film working in a Chicago factory, and spends much of it as a farm laborer. But his face is always clean, and his clothes always look like something brand new.

That sort of treatment usually goes to leading ladies, but not here. Until her character marries into money, Adams is often shown with a torn dress and a dirty face. I guess she wasn’t big enough at the box office.

One technical note about the presentation at the Cerrito:

I was surprised that they screened Days of Heaven in their upstairs theater. Not that I objected—from the audience’s perspective, the two screens and sound systems are pretty much identical.

But the downstairs theater can to do changeover projection, while the upstairs one can only screen film off a platter. Because platters can be hard on prints, studios generally object to screening old films—for which there are few prints–on them. (See Methods of Projection for details.)

So why did Paramount allow them to screen Days of Heaven on a platter? Studios generally allow this for really popular classics, like Casablanca or The Godfather, because they keep a lot of prints of those movies. But I doubt that Days of Heaven qualifies.

A more likely possibility: As the studios move away from film as a presentation medium, they may have stopped to care about their old prints. Much as I love digital projection, I don’t find that comforting.

What’s Screening: August 12 – 18

I missed this earlier, but From Britain with Love has moved across the Golden Gate to be Rafael. And over the weekend, VIZ Cinema @ New People presents An Asian American Film Retrospective. No other festivals this week.

A+ Ikiru, VIZ Cinema @ New People, Friday, 7:00. One of Akira Kurosawa’s best, and one of the greatest serious dramas ever put up on the screen. Takashi ikiruShimura gives the performance of his lifetime as an aging government bureaucrat dying of cancer. Emotionally cut off from his family–including the son and daughter-in-law that live with him–he struggles to find some meaning in his life before he dies. A deep and moving meditation on mortality and what it means to be human, Ikiru manages to be deeply spiritual without ever mentioning God or religion. Kurosawa followed Ikiru with Seven Samurai, a very different and even better masterpiece, and one where Shimura got to play an action hero. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry.

RiffTrax Live: Jack the Giant Killer, various theaters around the Bay, Wednesday, 8:00. RiffTrax, a troupe of Mystery Science Theater veterans, now riffs on bad movies before live audiences. This Wednesday they’re going the simulcast-in-many-theaters route. The movie they plan to deconstruct for your amusement, Jack the Giant Killer, is a low-budget fantasy from 1962 which I just might have seen in theaters as a very young child. You can read about my one live RiffTrax experience. (RiffTrax shouldn’t be confused with Cinematic Titanic, another troupe of MST3K veterans doing pretty much the same thing.  You can read about my Cinematic Titanic experiences here.)

A Taxi Driver, Camera Cinemas 3, Saturday.  When I think of the 1970s as a goldentaxidriver1 age of Hollywood-financed serious cinema, I think of Robert De Niro walking the dark, mean streets of New York, slowly turning into a psychopath. Writer Paul Schrader and director Martin Scorsese put together  this perfect study of loneliness as a disease. Travis Bickle isn’t lonely because he hasn’t found the right companion, or because society has failed him, or because he doesn’t want intimacy. He’s lonely because he’s mentally incapable of relating to other human beings. This is a sad and pathetic man, with a rage that will inevitably turn violent. Columbia Pictures has recently restored Taxi Driver, and if the Blu-ray release (see my review) is any indication, a theatrical presentation should look fantastic.

B- The Dreamers, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:00. More so than most cities, Paris exploded with youthful revolution in 1968. While others their age riot in the streets, three young people (Michael Pitt, Eva Green, and Louis Garrel), prefer to stay inside, smoking pot, discussing movies and Marxism, and making very close, exact, and detailed studies of each others’ bodies. In fact, they do the later in such detail that The Dreamers earned itself an NC-17 rating. The film works on two levels: simple eroticism, and baby boomer nostalgia for the days of sex, drugs, revolution, and passionate cinephilia. In other words, it’s not as deep as it thinks it is, but it’s still enjoyable. Part of the series Bernardo Bertolucci: In Search of Mystery.

A+ The General, Stanford, Friday, 7:30. Buster Keaton pushed film comedy like no  generalone else when he made this one. He meticulously recreated the Civil War setting. He mixed slapstick comedy with battlefield death. He hired thousands of extras and filmed what may be the single most expensive shot of the silent era (then used that shot as the setup for a gag whose punch line is a simple close-up). The result was a critical and commercial flop in 1926, but today it’s rightly considered one of the greatest comedies ever made. The Stanford will precede The General with one of Keaton’s best shorts, “One Week.” Dennis James will accompany both on the Stanford’s Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ.

A Hitchcock Double Bill: Shadow of a Doubt & Dial M for Murder, Stanford, Saturday through next Friday. In Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock’s first great American film and the movie that earns this double bill an A), a serial killer (Joseph Cotton) returns to his small-town roots. When his favorite niece (Teresa Wright) begins to suspect that all is not right with her beloved Uncle Charlie, her own life is in danger. The locations were shot in Santa Rosa. Dial M—the only 3D film made by an important auteur until Avatar–isn’t great Hitchcock, but it’s passable. Unfortunately, the Castro will not present the movie in 3D.

B+ I Live In Fear, VIZ Cinema @ New People, Saturday, 11:50am. Also known as  Record of a Living Being, this is easily the worst work from Kurosawa’s best period iliveinfear(1952 –1965), which still makes it very, very good. The story concerns an aging industrialist (Toshiro Mifune, made up to look twice his 35 years) driven insane, or at least irrational, by his fear of the the atom bomb. Convinced that only people in South America will survive World War III, he wants to move his entire family to Brazil. That family, meanwhile, wants him declared mentally incompetent before he wastes all of his money on this endeavor. You can read my Kurosawa Diary entry for more information.

B The Big Lebowski, UA Berkeley, Thursday, 8:00. Critics originally big_lebowski[1]panned this Coen Brothers gem as a disappointing follow-up to their previous endeavor, Fargo. Well, it isn’t as good as the Coen’s masterpiece, but it’s still one hell of a funny movie. It’s also built quite a cult following; The Big Lebowski has probably played more Bay Area one-night stands in the years I’ve maintained this site than than any three other movies put together.

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